According to a study done by the American Veterinary Medical Association, 63.2% of Americans consider their pets to be members of the family, and it is a safe bet that the number who are emotionally crushed when their pet passes away is very close to 100%. Losing a pet is hard, and anyone who has ever gone through it knows this. I myself have lost several; there are many feral cats in Southern Arizona, where I live, and although they are “feral,” they can still be very affectionate and kind. The problem is that over the years, many have been killed by cars or wild animals or simply disappeared as quickly as they came after months of their daily presence in my home. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to get attached to the new ones that seem to appear out of thin air. But I get attached anyway, because it’s our nature as pet lovers to do so, and as such have discovered some tips to help with the process of losing a pet. Despite the statistic that was cited above, often people are not prepared for the grieving process, or not aware that losing their pet will hurt as much as it does. And it does hurt.
Understand the Grieving Process
Everyone grieves in their own special way, but there are five commonly accepted “stages” of grief that psychologists agree most people experience after losing someone close to them. The stages go like this: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Think about it: what’s your first reaction to something bad? You say “I don’t believe it” or look for proof that it can’t possibly be happening the way you think it is. The same thing happens with anger. You might blame yourself, someone else, or a veterinarian for the loss of your cat (even if this anger is undeserved). There’s a light at the end of the tunnel though: acceptance. Thinking about your grief in the context of these “steps” helps shed some light on your actions, and helps you stay in control of yourself. Knowing that you will someday come to accept losing your pet will help you through the toughest times.
Your Loss is Important to You, and Should Be Respected
One thing that a lot of people may hear (especially if they have inconsiderate people in their life) is “Well, It’s only a cat.” Maybe to them it is, but to you (one of the 63.2%) it’s a member of your family whose life carried value beyond being “just a pet”. In all honesty, there’s not much you can do about these types of comments, other than try to accept that some people won’t “get it.” It can definitely be infuriating to be told that your loss isn’t important, so try not to throw anything too heavy at them.
When You’re Ready, Adopt Again
You know better than anyone when it is time to adopt a new pet. Don’t feel guilty; you’re not “moving on,” you’re simply adding a new member of the family. Your memories of the cat or dog you lost will live on regardless. Also, it’s important to adopt from a shelter as opposed to going through a breeder. Besides the health problems that pets from breeders often experience due to inbreeding, there are huge costs associated with breeders. And besides, there are so many pets in need of homes that you’re sure to find the perfect pet at your local animal shelter.
-Erica Anderson is a feral cat advocate and volunteer pet adoption coordinator. She also works for Horizon Animal Hospital, a veterinary hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona.